Alcohol use and crime: findings from a longitudinal sample of U.S. adolescents and young adults

Alcohol Clin Exp Res. 2012 Mar;36(3):532-43. doi: 10.1111/j.1530-0277.2011.01641.x. Epub 2011 Dec 14.


Background: A positive relationship between alcohol use and criminal activity has been well documented among adults, but fewer studies explore this relationship among adolescents.

Methods: Using data from 4 waves of the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), we examine alcohol use patterns and criminal activity from adolescence to young adulthood. Fixed-effects models partially address the potential endogeneity of alcohol use, and, because numerous studies indicate that males are more likely than females to engage in drinking and criminal activity, the analyses are segmented by gender.

Results: We find a strong positive relationship between alcohol consumption, the commission of crimes, and criminal victimization for both genders. Various sensitivity analyses and robustness checks support this core finding.

Conclusions: Our results have important policy implications, as public policy tools that aim to reduce drinking among adolescents could also reduce criminal activity. Moreover, effective alcohol abuse treatment may indirectly reduce delinquency and thus have greater long-term economic benefits than previously estimated.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adolescent Behavior / psychology*
  • Adult
  • Alcohol Drinking / psychology*
  • Crime / psychology*
  • Crime / statistics & numerical data
  • Crime Victims / psychology
  • Ethanol / poisoning*
  • Female
  • Health Surveys / statistics & numerical data
  • Humans
  • Longitudinal Studies / statistics & numerical data
  • Male
  • Models, Psychological
  • Sex Characteristics
  • United States


  • Ethanol